Authors: Vanessa Waltz
Tags: #mafia romance, #Contemporary Fiction, #vanessa waltz, #alpha male romance, #Contemporary Romance
I take a step forward and his hand shoots out, grabbing me.
“He had nothing to do with it.”
Heat flushes over my skin and I rip my arm from his grasp. “I should be able to get rid of that asshole’s brother, and you know it. An eye for an eye. Justice.” I look into the darkened restaurant again, tempted to shove Nick aside and kick open the door.
It was an agonizing death. A bullet straight to the gut, which ricocheted through several major organs. The paramedics told me that she was crying for me.
Get my brother. I need my brother.
You know how many nightmares I had when they told me that?
She bled out and died in the ambulance. Janice should have been safe.
I should have saved her. Fuck, she wanted me and I wasn’t there.
I’m in the most powerful crime family in the East Coast, and I couldn’t keep her safe. And for months I agonized about the senseless violence that resulted in her death, the should-haves and could-haves, the gut-wrenching powerlessness I felt when he was sentenced to life in prison. I didn’t want that fucker in jail. I wanted his life in my hands. I wanted to be in a room with him, alone with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch. I never got that. All I have is my loss.
I can’t believe she’s gone, like actually-never-going-to-come-back, gone. Every day I go through this hellish cycle of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. I can’t accept it. I won’t.
Nick spreads his hands. “It’s not like I agree with Jack, but he’s the boss, and he doesn’t want you to whack the guy.”
Nicky’s fist swings out of nowhere and clips me across the face. Blood bursts into my mouth and I stumble a few steps.
mouth. I’m not fucking around anymore, Joe. Get in your car and go. You need to see the boss.”
The fury is like an open sore inside my stomach, eating away at the walls. I want to lunge forward and smash the prick’s face in.
“Don’t give me that look, you prick. I’m just trying to keep your ass from getting killed.”
One of his hands rests on his hip, where I know he holds a gun. I eye it warily.
Fine, asshole. I
ll do what you say just this one time, but I
ll be back here to finish what I started.
I tear my gaze away from the restaurant and nod to Nicky without another word.
He doesn’t understand. How could he?
Janice was a year younger. We were best friends. I used to joke that she was more of a brother than a sister, because she liked doing all the shit I did. We played hockey on the street, went camping, played cards, we went to high school together, everything. She’s in every good memory I have. How am I supposed to go on without her?
Every day is a struggle just to get up, to find a reason to open my eyes. It really hit me hard when I went to that funeral the other day. Fucking hell, it was the last thing I wanted to do. I felt for that girl. From what I heard, it was very sudden and unexpected, but what I told her was a lie. It didn’t get easier for me.
* * *
Nicky is like a shadow next to me, a shadow I long to leave behind. He flanks me as we walk towards the deli. Jack sits outside around a small patio table, smoking a cigar while Vince, the underboss, sits across from him. He’s in his mid thirties. Good-looking guy, but a complete prick. His left hand glimmers with a small wedding band. Jesus Christ. I still can’t believe he’s married.
“Oh, there he is!” Vince stands up and gives me a wide smile as he wraps his arms around my back and pounds me.
“Hey, Vince,” I say in a toneless voice. “Jack.”
I nod at the Vittorio Crime Family boss, the man who gave me the position of
before Vince yanked it away from me. He still doesn’t trust me.
“Nicky, thanks for bringing him in.”
“No problem, Jack.” Nicky gives me a grim look before he walks past the table and enters the store.
Vince’s eyes darken as he pulls away. “You were supposed to be here earlier.”
Fuck your mother.
I’m still fucking pissed at Nicky. “I’m here now, aren’t I?”
Vince glares at me for a moment, looking like he’d quite like to punch in my face, but he relents.
Jack gets up from his seat and puts out the cigar. “Come inside, Joe. We gotta talk.”
The glass door swings open and we walk past the customers gathered inside the deli, into the back rooms, which hold a pool table, several desks, a dartboard, and chairs. Paulie, Nicky, and all the other captains are already there. Nicky looks away from me as soon as I walk in.
Paulie looks up from under his eyeglasses. “Did you hear? Carmine Lucchesi is still fucking giving orders from prison to the New Jersey outfit.”
The underboss shakes his head darkly. “Can someone tell me why the fuck he’s still alive?”
Jack walks around the pool table. “Forget about Carmine, Vince. He’s in jail. They’ll get to him when they can. I’m more worried about the Worlds Casino.”
“Money,” he says under his breath. “It’s always about cock-sucking, motherfucking money.”
Jack ignores him. “The death of Dominic Toffoli could not come at a worse fucking time. I got the feds all over my ass every fucking hour of the day because of that lunatic Carmine, and this business is one of our greatest assets.” He crosses his arms over his chest.
“What do you know about this broad? Can she be trusted?” I ask him.
“Her old man could.” He runs his fingers over the felt. “Anyway, that’s what I needed to talk to you about. I want you to go there. Help her. Make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid.”
My fists clench at my sides. “And if she does?”
“What the fuck do you think?” Vince explodes. “Smack her around. Scare her. Put the fear of God in her.”
I glance at him sharply. Sometimes, I wonder if he has any brain cells. “This is not the kind of woman you smack around, Vince. She has a lot of connections.”
“Then lick her pussy.”
The rest of the guys explode with laughter, but it all chimes around me like nonsense words. I can’t feel any of it. It rolls right off my shoulders like rain running down my back. Vince’s face brightens with laughter, but it falls when he sees mine.
“Jesus Christ, lighten up a little.”
“Joey,” Jack cuts in. “This is very important. You cannot fuck this up.”
All of their eyes rest on me. They’re like wolves staring down at me, just waiting for me to trip so that they can eat me alive. I’ve lost their respect after what happened at the heist months ago. I fucked it up because I was too distracted over—over everything that happened with my sister.
“Relax. I’ll handle it.”
Fuck, it won’t be hard. It might even be enjoyable. I’ve never had problems with girls. You just give them a little bit of attention, make them feel special, and then they’re eating out of your hand.
Then I think about her small round face and how her eyes filled with tears when she talked to me, and guilt and duty clash together.
“Just get close to her. I can’t imagine her dad wouldn’t have told her about us—”
you. She acted like she had no fucking idea who we were. I even dropped your name. No reaction.”
Vince gives Jack a worried look. “That’s weird.”
I shrug. “Whatever. We’ll find out when I see her.” Suddenly amongst them, I feel a strong desire to return to my apartment. To be alone. “Is that all, then?”
Jack’s pinched face turns to me and he jerks his head, motioning for outside. I can feel the rest of the guys’ eyes on me as I turn my back. I know that they’re probably talking about me already, but can’t bring myself to care. My eyes squint in the sunshine as we walk outside and Jack motions towards the patio table with two chairs.
I sit down and look straight into his watery eyes.
He’s not a very impressive figure, but somehow he always manages to look larger than life. He leans across the table, taking more than half the space. “Joe, I need you to put your grief behind you.”
A small spark of anger sizzles inside me as I stare at his lined face. What would he know about this kind of loss? “I have.”
“No, you fucking haven’t. It’s all over your face. You’re moping all the goddamn time, and I’m sick of it.”
“All due respect, Jack, I do not mope. Do you see me crying? No. I’m dealing with it like a man, but she’s my sister. We were very close.”
Isn’t that what this whole fucking thing is about? Family? How could this piece of shit look me in the eye and tell me that I’m grieving too much?
your sister. She’s gone.”
My jaw twitches. The callousness in his voice lights that desire inside me to strike back.
t scream at him. He
s the boss. He
s the boss.
“Go out with the guys. Have a drink. Fuck around. Do whatever it takes to get this out of your system. I want the old Joey back.”
The tremble in his voice makes me look up at him. I know he wants me to be better, but I can’t just flip a switch for myself.
I can’t fucking go back.
“I know it’s not what you want to hear, but I’ll never be the same man again.”
“Why are you fucking doing this to yourself?” He slams his hand on the table, but the vibration doesn’t even make me flinch. “You’re not just some soldier in the family, Joe. I made you captain because I believed in you. And you fucked it all up.”
I’ll never be able to live that down. “It was just that one time.”
“Still, you walk around like you don’t give a shit about anything anymore. Frankly, you seem like you’re cracking up. You’re one of those guys who wants to get caught.”
Heat rises in my chest and something else, something that makes my palms sweat. “That’s quite a leap. I do
want to get caught.”
“Yeah, well, you better prove to me that you’re willing to put in everything you’ve got into this family. This is not a fucking part-time job. The moment you were made, you signed up for life. You can’t slack off or quit, or I’ll find someone else to do your job.”
My vision slows down and shrinks into a tunnel, where all I can see is Jack’s face. I swallow hard.
ll get rid of you if you don
t smarten up.
Basically, that’s what he’s telling me right now. He doesn’t trust me and I’m on thin ice. This is what my behavior these last few months has cost me.
I don’t want to die.
The thought slams into me with the force of a wrecking ball. Despite wishing I were dead every morning, when confronted with the actual possibility of real death I feel suddenly—
I clench my fists and the nails bite into my palms. “I know what I signed up for, and I’ll get the job done. I promise.”
Jack’s unrelenting stare softens slightly as he leans forward and claps my shoulder. “You’re a good kid, Joey. Just go see Marisa as soon as possible and call me with a report.”
I stand to my feet a little shakily, prepared to sprint to the casino if that’s what it takes to keep him from popping me. “All right. Bye, Jack.”
Energy courses through my veins as I turn my back on him and walk back towards my car. My body feels renewed. Electric.
There’s nothing more stimulating than a death threat.
get the job done. Not just because I have to, but because I want to be remembered as a stand up guy.
* * *
There’s a scaffold in front of the dilapidated Worlds Casino sign and workers removing it, preparing to replace it with a more modern sign. Lord knows, the casino could do with a remodeling, but the new owner seems to be sparing no expense. New carpet everywhere, new paint, new everything. She sectioned off several areas of the casino to start the remodeling slowly while keeping it open for business. Smart. It might hurt business for a couple weeks, but at least the place will be updated from all the god-awful 70’s decor.
I climb the steps to the manager offices and flash my badge to security. Recognizing me, they move aside and I walk down the hall, looking for the President’s office. It’s a huge place with tons of hallways, but I remember where the office was.
Her old man’s nameplate is still attached to the door. How interesting. I raise my fist and knock three sharp raps.
A muffled female voice booms out. “Come in.”
I twist the handle and walk inside the brightly lit office, which is kind of a mess. There are papers strewn all over the oak desk and behind the massive pile of papers sits the girl I met the other day. She looks smaller because she’s buried in paperwork and sitting in that massive chair. Her light eyes glance up from the desk and freeze. Something goes through me when our eyes meet. My heart thuds against my chest.
“Oh, it’s you.” A faint blush rises in her cheeks, making her look even prettier. “Mr. DiFiore?”
I step into the room, a smile crossing my face despite myself. Good, she remembers me. “Yeah. It’s just Joe.”
She stands up and moves from behind the desk. Marisa wears a pencil skirt and a white blouse, one where I can see the outline of her bra. Sexy. Her dark blonde hair is swept up in a bun, and I have a sudden desire to see her undo it, to see it fall over her shoulders in a wave and to take a fist of it in my hand and—
Jesus. Calm down, boy.
Marisa shakes my hand and blushes again at the contact. A pleasant, triumphant feeling makes me swallow down a smirk. If she likes me, this might be a lot easier.
“What can I do for you, Joe?”
“Actually, my boss wanted me to come here to help you with the transition. I can answer questions you might have.”
She runs a shaky hand over her head. “Well, I could definitely use the help, but I’m still not sure who you are, though.”
I pinch my hand with my thumb, fighting the unease inside me. This girl doesn’t know who the fuck we are.